The Sandstone Blog

‘Sara Garland and the ‘excellent read’ that is ‘The House of Trembling Leaves’

Posted by RLD on 12th February 2013

Sara Garland has contributed this glowing review of ‘The House of Trembling Leaves’ by Julian Lees to Book Diva. We hope you will click on and further explore their web site.


As an avid reader, I’m always in search of that novel that offers something a bit different, but which is also captivating. The House of Trembling Leaves gave me the sense that I was onto a good read from the very first pages. The short prologue sets the Malaysia scene, with highly likeable and engaging characters, that are humorous and highly individual. From there on I was hooked.
The book essentially follows the lives of two close friends, Lu See Teoh and her maid Sum Sum. It begins in Malaysia in 1936 at a time when Lu See has been betrothed to a one eyed, fat banker. Unable to bear the thought of marrying him and with academic aspirations she makes her escape with Sum Sum to Cambridge in England.

There is much animosity between the Malays and the Chinese, which is in part characterised via a family feud between Sue Lu See’s wealthy family and the Chinese, Woo family. After the dam on the local river is sabotaged resulting in loss of life, suspicion between the families deepens. The girls see one particular man around the time of the disaster, which unwittingly places them in danger.

Their adventure begins from the moment they leave, to the boat trip across the ocean as well to setting themselves up in accommodation in Cambridge. The trip is also a romantic adventure, as Su Lee has made secret plans to marry one of the Woo clan.

Whilst the girls adjust and cope at settling in a very different country, their lives do not take a straight forward path and much is experienced in such a short time. There is heart ache and tragedy, as well as danger and threats. The girls are best of friends, but will become separated and lead very separate and different lives. But their lives are entwined and a desire to see each one another again still exists.

Whilst this is predominantly a story about the binding friendship these two girls have, it manages to do this whilst portraying life in a striking country of different traditions and cultures. Not only this, it covers the Japanese occupation and communist insurgency, reflecting how it changed the country and the interelationships between people.

Malaysia is enchantingly pictured. Not overly descriptive but with wonderful imageries of the settings, with innovative metaphorical elucidations. It follows the lives of the girls and their families, from 1936, when young adults to 1957 as mature women. A lot is packed into this story to cover these time frames. It is easy to read and become absorbed in. The array of colourful distinctive characters is what makes the story so engaging and powerful. They have warmth and are witty, humorous individuals that stand out and connect with you. I hope this book get the credit it deserves, it’s an excellent read.

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